It’s a bit different to be reviewing this soundtrack album. For a start, I’m already familiar with the music on it, from having heard it when Series Seven was broadcast, and then re-watched several times since. Also, it’s the seventh series that Murray Gold has written for Doctor Who, and one of his strengths as a composer is the way he uses returning themes for characters. So here we have some new takes on old themes for characters and aliens, but also a chance for something altogether new with the introduction of Clara as a new companion.
I think that the genius move of deciding to have orchestral scores for the show since it came back in 2005 has really helped shaped the feel of Doctor Who in the modern age, and recalls classic Hollywood scores where themes and melodies will be used through different pieces of music, instantly putting you in mind of characters, aliens and places. With conductor Ben Foster and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Gold has achieved scores that are bold and ambitious, moving, exciting, creepy, tense and thrilling.
With the show, each week provides a new opportunity to go somewhere completely different, a new place, a different time, a different feel, and the music always matches this. It must make writing the music for Doctor Who a joy as well as a challenge, to be able to have such a broad scope of what you can do, and where you can go, and how you can achieve it. Full orchestral score, or electronic sounds more reminiscent of the classic years of Who soundtrack, over the course of this CD, we get a taste of it all.
Asylum of the Daleks gives a chance for some dark and brooding strings, and eerie electronic industrial effects. Also a chance to hear a new theme for Clara for the first time in Oswin Oswald. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was the classic Hollywood adventure romp, and the music fits the bill with the full orchestra getting a workout, with loads of percussion getting a roll out whilst A Town Called Mercy brings a modern feel to the classic Spaghetti Western sound, lots of Ennio Morricone chops here, with a liberal helping of jaws harp, banjo, twangy guitar and low choral vocals.
The Power of Three brings us up to date with a contemporary feel, sounding somewhat electronic in feel, and a little off kilter and ill at easewhereas The Angels Take Manhattan is another chance for old school full-on orchestra, and a bit of a period piece. Its fairly heavily represented here, not surprisingly as its the big goodbye for Amy and Rory. Lots of eerie strings, low broody brass, and percussive vibes/xylophone here. Nice harp action too.
The Bells of Saint John opens with an orchestral build, then gives Clara’s theme its first proper outing, beautiful light piano and flute combine for a really touching piece, light and airy strings joining as it progresses. The rest of this episode sees more contemporary efforts, with Bah Bah Biker coming over a bit Steve Harley, then Up The Shard bringing the full adventure orchestra back. It has a great flurry in it. Gold does a good flurry. Love a flurry.
The Rings of Akhaten wasn’t my favourite episode, but the music stands up, and its the most vocal of this season’s offerings. Opening with The Leaf (another take on Clara’s theme) it goes through quite an eastern feel, and has the praise-like God of Akhaten through the Omen-esque Never Wake and back to the Hymnal feel of The Long Song.
Cold War and Skaldak are very much the atmospheric offerings. There isn’t much happening, long quiet notes and ethereal strings and electronic percussion. I Am A Ghost from Hide continues in that vein. A Machine That Makes Machines (from Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS) is a trebly uneasy electronic rhythm that melds into cold strings and building woodwind and brass.
Gatiss’ Victorian Gothic of The Crimson Horror, is treated with building flaring brass and sweeping strings that whip up into a frenzy, followed by Sweetville‘s harpsichord led creep-out which continues through Thomas Thomas. Holst-ering up back to the future with Nightmare in Silver opens with spacey orchestral pieces in Hedgewick’s World and Tiberian Spiral Galaxy, before Upgrade In Progress and Dream Of Cyberia and Cyber Army, update Gold’s Cyberman themes. Nice to hear the melodies first heard back in The Age of Steel back.
The Name Of The Doctor has re-worked themes of the Eleventh in To Save The Doctor and A Secret He Will Take To His Grave. Clara’s theme re-appears in A Letter To Clara and in the final piece Remember Me. Trenzalore has an eerie string led quiet unease to it, as does I Am Information which builds with flaring brass into a crescendo. Remember Me, which starts with echoes of Clara’s theme, ends with a very Doctor’s theme flourish. That Cliffhanger eh?! Watched it again last week, still can’t get my head round it. Roll on 23rd November!
And that was Series Seven. [Though they seem to have missed out two Christmas Specials – Ed.] It’s funny to look back now on the first couple of series soundtracks. Amazing musically, but when you listen to them, it sounds like a good recording of an orchestra playing live. I think they really hit their stride by Series Three, and you can tell that recording budgets may have increased, as the sound of the soundtrack really pulls together. It sounds like a proper orchestral score, the mix is right, the production perfect. They have continued to do what they do best. It’s been great to see the Doctor Who Proms happening, a real nod to the great work that Murray Gold has achieved with these, and how good Ben Foster and the Orchestra are.
Composer Murray Gold
So, yeah, if you like Doctor Who, this is a shoe-in, just like all the other collections of new Who soundtracks. Deserving of a place in your collection. Play it in your car and confuse people as you drive past.
(And Murray, in the unlikely event that you’re reading this, feel free to use Camera Obscura in a future soundtrack. We won’t mind. The BBC don’t even have to ask, it’ll just be a nice surprise, cheers.)